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New Florida Law Shrouds Executions in Secrecy

by Kevin W. Bliss

On May 12, 2022, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed HB 873, “providing an exemption from public records requirements for information or records that identify or could reasonably lead to the identification of any person or entity that participates in an execution.”

Sponsored by state Sen. Doug Braxton (R-Pensacola), the new law allows the state Department of Corrections (DOC) to shield the identity of firms providing drugs used in lethal injections of condemned state prisoners. Many firms that manufacture such drugs now refuse to sell them for executions, forcing states to keep their use for that purpose a secret. [See: PLN, Feb. 2019, p.42.] Florida changed its execution drug protocol in 2017 to replace the widely used sedative midazolam with etomidate, over the objections of manufacturer Johnson & Johnson. [See: PLN, Apr. 2018, p.11.]

Braxton insisted that DOC had nothing to hide because its executions are “efficient” and “humane,” but he said the new law will prevent death penalty opponents from “trying to interfere with [Florida’s] statutory responsibility.”

In a suit filed by prisoners challenging Florida’s death sentence procedures, testimony from expert witnesses said etomidate can cause acute pulmonary edema — excess buildup of fluid in the lungs — leading to the painful sensation of drowning. Other eyewitness testimony stated that recipients of the lethal cocktail have shown obvious signs of distress, convulsing and screaming at the top of their lungs.

Refusing to give an explanation, DOC has also implemented changes to its lethal injection protocols which conceal the prisoner being executed from those observing. Tented sheets are placed over the condemned prisoner, his hands taped down and the body turned so that only the feet can be observed.

Emory University Hospital anesthesiologist Joel Zivot said this is just a way to conceal information from the public at a time when transparency is important. “Even though the law turns on the inmate’s experience, it falls on the public to be the eyes and ears and mouth of an inmate who cannot speak for themselves as they die,” he said. 

Sources: Tampa Bay Times, WFLX

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